Today was day 1 of a great conference, the 15th annual PSA Regional Stroke Conference. First of all, the conference took place at The Magnolia of Millbrae which I thought was an awesome venue for this crowd. A stroke conference in a retirement home, very cool! (I feel bad I did not have time to get a better look at the premises - I might have to go back soon to check the place out in detail.. I just loved their attitude!)
Secondly and more importantly, I was lucky to hear three great speakers, Dr. Jeremy Bornstein, Dr. Sheila Chan and Dr. Stephanie Linn. Amazing presentations, all of them! The one that stuck to me most today was “Patterns of Psychological Adjustment of Stroke Patients and Families” by Dr. Jeremy Bornstein. He did a great job reminding us all of the huge and overwhelming impact stroke has not only on the patient, but also to those around him or her.
When working in outpatient rehab, we get to see our patients after they return home from the hospital. This time is usually filled with hope and high expectations, but the new days, weeks and months in familiar surroundings can also be full of new and surprising obstacles. Figuring out how to overcome these obstacles and rebuilding ways of doing things (like communicating needs, wants and feelings or socializing) can be scary and hard.
Also, rebuilding a way of functioning as a spouse, daughter, son or parent is a complicated process. Dr. Bornstein reminded us today that there are many, many paths people take to rebuild their relationships after a stroke and sometimes that path can be a winding one.
I have been lucky to meet many amazing people who work tirelessly to provide the best possible care for their loved ones - sometimes at the cost of their own well being. We all know that recovering from a stroke involves the risk of depression. The one thing I was reminded today was that in regard to this it is not only the patient we need to be looking at - we need to turn our attention to the caregivers too. Also they have had dramatic changes in their lives and have great demands in their new role.
As professionals working with stroke patients our holistic view of the recovery process needs to include the people close to the patient. One thing we should include in our routine when working with caregivers is encouraging them to take care of themselves as well as their loved ones. In speech therapy this can be done by simply acknowledging the great job the caregivers are doing. Positive reinforcement works! I also like to talk about what the caregiver has done that they themselves enjoy. Sometimes a gentle reminder that it is ok to take care of yourself too works amazingly well.
When the caregiver is well rested, happy and balanced, they are able to maintain better care for the patient too. Also, caregivers need time and space to adjust to the new circumstances to be able to rebuild a balanced relationship with their loved ones. Kind of simple, right?
So everybody, lets give it up for all the caregivers out there doing a great job! You guys are true heroes of our time.
P.S. Today was day 1 of the 15th annual Stroke Conference. Day 2 is coming up on May 15 and to my understanding you can still register for that one. Hope to see you there!